Opinion: No Candidate With Only 30% Of Vote Should Lead 100% Of The People

Four Wyoming legislators wrote a column supporting Senate File 145 which would require a runoff election when the highest vote-getter does not receive more than 50% of the vote.

March 14, 20214 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Reps. Mark Jennings, Chip Neiman, Jeremy Haroldson, John Bear

If there is one lesson we have all learned over the last 5 months, it is that elections matter and preserving the integrity of our elections is our responsibility.   We must work hard to ensure our elections are conducted fairly and that the outcome reflects the will of the people.  It is hard to think of an issue that matters more at this crucial time in our nation’s history. 

Over the next 2 weeks, the Wyoming Legislature will be considering Senate File 145, which would require a runoff election in Wyoming elections when the highest vote-getter does not receive more than 50% of the vote.  In short, no candidate who wins 30% of the vote should be allowed to lead 100% of the people.  We support passage of this bill with an immediate implementation in 2022 and urge you to do the same.  Our representational form of government is founded on the basic principle that elections are decided by a majority of the people.  However, in Wyoming, the winner of the Republican primary often has barely 30% of the vote.  This effectively disenfranchises 60-70% of Wyoming voters.  The runoff bill would ensure that our elected leaders are clearly the choice of the majority of voters, not just a plurality.

Immediate implementation of the runoff bill is imperative because it is not uncommon for Wyoming elections to be decided by less than a majority of votes.  For example, in 2010, Matt Mead won the Republican gubernatorial primary with 29% of the vote and Rita Meyer placed second with 28.4% of the vote.  The 2 candidates were separated by a mere 714 votes.  This occurred again in 2018 in a 6-candidate gubernatorial race, when Mark Gordon won 33.4% of the vote, compared to Foster Friess’ 25.6%.  See a pattern?  We do.  If a runoff election had been required in either of those elections, it is likely the more conservative candidate would have won the runoff election.

Why does this occur so often?  Well, the vast majority of Wyoming voters are conservative Republicans.  In reality, the Wyoming Republican primary decides the race.  As a result, the Republican primary often attracts multiple candidates.  When multiple conservatives run against a self-labeled “moderate” or liberal candidate, the conservative voters historically split the conservative vote amongst several candidates and the moderate candidate wins a plurality.  It is sometimes referred to as a “circular firing squad.”

That’s how multiple state and national candidates won their elections.  And that’s how Rep. Liz Cheney hopes to win back her seat, despite dismal polling numbers.  However, this is not about Liz Cheney.  Our support for this bill is not about particular people or personalities, it’s about percentages.  Thirty percent of the voters should not decide our elections.  Can we run the risk of sending people to represent us who only garnered support from 30% of voters, or less?

Now, having lots of good candidates to choose from is not a bad thing.  We should encourage elections in which people have ample choices rather than only having select frontmen handpicked by political machines.   Therefore, discouraging good candidates from running and disenfranchising voters is not the solution.  Instead, borrowing the runoff election concept from other States, like South Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma, which have utilized them successfully for decades, is the better solution.  Again, no candidate who wins 30% of the vote should be leading 100% of the people.

The runoff election bill is overwhelmingly supported by the Wyoming Republican Party, which passed a resolution supporting runoff elections at its February State Central Committee meeting.  The runoff election concept is consistent with the Wyoming Republican Party ByLaws, which require a runoff election in its officer elections when the highest vote-getter does not receive more than 50% of the vote.  This ensures that our leaders have the support of the majority of the people, not just a vocal minority.

For these reasons, we support the runoff bill as long as it goes into effect immediately for the 2022 elections.  We encourage you to contact your Senator and Representative and urge them to do the same.  To find out who your legislators are, go to http://redistricting.state.wy.us/planviewer/ and email them or call them today.

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